It was at Phnom Kulen, then known as Mahendrapura, that Jayavarman II had himself consecrated supreme ruler in 802 (a date that is regarded as marking the start of the Angkorian period), thereby instigating the cult of the devaraja. Although ancient temples are scattered here and elsewhere in the Kulen Mountains, none of these can be visited due to the lack of roads and the danger of land mines. Instead, the main reason to visit Phnom Kulen, 50km north of Siem Reap, is to gawp at the massive reclining Buddha carved out of a huge rock in the sixteenth century, though once you’re here you may find yourself more taken with the piety of the Buddhist devotees who come to worship at a chain of shrines.
You don’t need an Angkor entry pass to visit Phnom Kulen, but foreign visitors are charged a hefty $20 to visit the site; this, coupled with the cost of hiring a vehicle ($20–50, depending what kind of vehicle and who you hire it from), will keep all but the most dedicated explorers from visiting.
The area was heavily mined by the Khmer Rouge and although HALO are working there now, it has yet to be fully cleared, so you shouldn’t wander off to locations other than those described below unless you have an experienced local guide.Read More
The entrance fee is paid at the foot of the hill, from where the road climbs steadily through forest to a sandstone plateau. On the left a track leads to a parking area from where you can walk down to the river where you may be able to make out some of the linga for which the river is famed, but as they’re only 25cm square, they’re hard to spot on the river bed if the waters are high or turbid. Near the bridge, another 500m along the road, more linga are carved in the river bed, but you’ll need a guide to find the spot for you. It’s a further 1km or so to the top of the hill – packed with stalls selling food, refreshments and Khmer medicine. A short climb brings you to a busy pagoda, Preah Ang Thom, which features a much-revered and rather impressive reclining Buddha, carved into a massive boulder. You’ll need to remove your shoes at the bottom of the steps, and once at the top you’ll have to squeeze in between Cambodians making offerings and having their photographs taken; from the rock there are good views over the surrounding Kulen Mountains. Around the base of the rock, a simple but impressive frieze of Buddha heads has been carved.
If you’ve come without a guide, the local children will take you to see the forest shrines behind the pagoda – in the hope that you’ll come to buy food and refreshments from them before you leave. Alternatively, follow the locals, who come armed with huge bundles of incense to ensure they have enough to make offerings at all the shrines on the circuit. Nearly every boulder has a legend attached to it – one with holes that look like claw marks is said to be where Hanuman crash-landed. At the end of the track, Cambodians come to wash their faces in water from a holy spring which gushes from a boulder, believing this will give energy, good health and luck; old bottles are produced and filled to take home.